Copper working in Newlyn has an interesting history. The original Copper Works was set up in 1890 by John Drew Mackenzie as part of the Newlyn Art Industries in order to augment the unreliable income derived from the diminishing fishing industry. The ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement was embraced; painting, copper work, enamelling, jewellery, silk work and pottery brought added income whilst raising the spirit of the community. By the end of the Second World War however, the drive and spirit behind the Arts and Crafts movement had long since passed and after a slow but steady decline, production finally ceased in the late 1950s. Now, the art of working copper in Newlyn is seeing a welcome revival, thanks to Michael Johnson and his colleagues at the new Copperworks.
Born 1963 in the UK, Michael spent his early years in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Emigrating with his family to Australia at age ten, there he completed his education to degree level and subsequently established a career in the performing arts. Parallel to this career he began to develop what had been a childhood passion, working with copper. In his twenties this led to commission and exhibition work and on retiring from the performing arts he took up metal work full time.
An opportunity to further develop his metal working skills saw him return to the UK to work with his uncle, Terry English, an internationally regarded armourer. Subsequent films Michael worked on included First Knight, Batman And Robin, Joan of Arc, King Arthur and Pirates of the Caribbean 2+3. The skills for hand forming sheet metal work in the armoury paralleled those of the copper and silversmith.
The past eleven years working in the UK and abroad have allowed him to build on his skills as a craftsman in copper and in 2004 Michael established the present Copper Works in Newlyn.
As well as telling us about his career, Michael showed us some wonderful examples of his work – and some of were even able to touch Johnny Depp’s pirate swordbelt!